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Presents delivered to Hillcrest Commons for the facility's residents.
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Food from Patrick's Pub and Ottos's was delivered to the facility.

Hillcrest Commons Extends Thanks to Community for Support

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Signs of support outside the nursing home hit hard by COVID-19.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Staff and residents of Hillcrest Commons said they wanted to extend the warmest of thank-yous to Berkshire County for the outpouring of support they have received this holiday season.  

The nursing and rehabilitation center received more than 20 different forms of support from community members such as gifts, cards, food deliveries, caroling outside of residents' windows, and a parade around the building.

"I believe that Berkshire County is a special place and the last month has just reinforced that belief," said Marjorie Laurin, marketing communications coordinator at Berkshire Healthcare.

Kristen Vella Williams coordinated the donation of hundreds of gifts from her and other volunteers this year. Williams has been doing this for about seven years and, in pre-COVID times, a small holiday party would be held for the residents where they would receive the gifts.  

Admissions and Marketing Director Deirdre Tozer-Hayes said Williams and fellow volunteers went above and beyond, breaking their own record for providing the largest amount of gifts that were specific to the needs of residents such as slippers, new pants, or an object of interest.

"I was blown away by actually how much support she brought us," Tozer-Hayes said, "When I say presents, it was not just one present, it was bags of gifts for them."

Each resident received a gift this year, and some without great family support were gifted more than once. A gentleman lacking family support received a full wardrobe from the volunteers, including LL Bean slippers.

Gifted items also included hand-crocheted blankets, socks, activities, and stuffed animals. All gifts were quarantined before being handed out by Hillcrest's own Santa Claus, Activities Director Wally Valenti.

Valenti, who has experience as a professional actor and musician, said this allowed him to have some fun during a dark period at the facility.

"It's very rewarding for us as well as staff at Hillcrest Commons, we're also dealing with a lot of stuff, too, so it makes the days a little bit more bearable sometimes when you just go out of your comfort zone and do something for others," Valenti said. "It's always helped me and it's always made me feel better when I help someone else. That's what we try to do each and every day here."

Taconic High School's marketing class raised funds from hundreds of Pittsfield residents that were used to bring holiday hope and help local restaurants. In turn, the group arranged for 200 meals for two from Patrick's Pub and Otto's to be delivered to staff at Hillcrest Commons.

Taconic health tech students also delivered chocolate and a card for staff with personal quotes and good wishes.

Hillcrest Common's 11 to 7 shift was even considered, as Jessica Ruffo and her family delivered wraps for the overnight workers.

Valenti said he couldn't thank VFW Post 448 Commander Arnie Perras and American Legion Post 68 Commander Tom Landry enough, as they were instrumental in coordinating a large parade at the facility. They also provided veteran residents and staff with sweaters reading "veteran."

Residents were also delighted when Windsor Church chorus performed caroling tunes outside of their bedroom windows. Cards with hand-drawn illustrations and uplifting messages to residents and staff were popular among donators.

Williamstown resident Linda Rash sent a box of Christmas cards, which she has been doing regularly since the pandemic started. Many entities also submitted cards and letters including Richmond Consolidated School, Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center, HospiceCare in the Berkshires, Hillcrest Educational, Williams College athletes who wrote 200 cards, and Crane Stationery Co., which donated 170 Christmas cards that physical therapist Catherine Cybulski and her daughter filled out.

"I never thought that a card would do so much, but it does," Valenti said.

Hundreds of cards were sent to staff and residents.

Hillcrest Commons Is one of the largest skilled nursing centers in the state and was the among last in Massachusetts the be touched by COVID-19. The facility suffered a devastating loss of 42 residents in the last months of the year and 75 percent of residents were infected along with many staff members.

Over the past month, a team of clinical nurses has dedicated the time to providing outreach to families concerned for their loved ones. This includes facilitating Facetime visits and giving family members updates since visitation is not allowed at this time.

This was a heavy burden for residents and staff alike to carry, but the outpouring of support was in some ways a light at the end of a dark tunnel that concluded 2020, they said.

"With everything that's happened, it's been a real blessing for us,"  Laurin said. "In health care, you're not doing this for the money, you're doing this to take care of our most vulnerable population and I think that in the beginning it was tough but then the community caught on and we just couldn't offer enough ways for them to provide support. It's been pretty special."

Tozer-Hayes, Laurin, and Valenti agreed that food and showing care and support have been extremely helpful to staff because they are working tirelessly, wearing face masks and shields even in the privacy of their own offices.

"It's been a wonderful experience in a lot of different perspectives and some of the most challenging experiences on the flip side, I just look for wonderful days ahead, and just taking care of our residents and getting back to whatever normal will be," Valenti said.

"I couldn't think of a better group to work with during this difficult time to get through," Tozer-Hayes added. "there were very dark days but knowing that you are side by side with somebody who cares as much as you do and is doing all they can is very important, and I feel lucky that this is where I work and what I do."

Tags: Christmas story,   COVID-19,   nursing home,   

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Persip Focuses on Economic Development, COVID Recovery in Council Re-Election Bid

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

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The councilor's announcement come after the decisions of three of his colleagues not to run: Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell, and Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo announced early this year that they would not seek re-election.

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The Pittsfield native is a descendant of one of the city's most notable African American families. Alfred K. Persip was the first African American in Berkshire County to enlist at the start of World War I, followed by his brothers John and Charles, for whom the American Legion Post 68 on Wendell Avenue is named. Persip Park on North Street was dedicated to the family in 1983.

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